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Avarice

( Originally Published 1923 )

IN eastern countries it is the custom to consign the bodies of the deceased to earth clothed only in a simple shroud. The latter, of course, has no pockets, and it is a proverb in these countries, when the penuriousness of some persons is being censured, to remark that the shroud has no pockets, meaning by this that when one dies he cannot take any of his riches with him. We may possess mil-lions, we may call the finest jewels and diamonds our own, and we may have found the treasures of Montezuma the Second, which were hidden from Cortez; but when once we are dead, "as dead as a door-nail," as Charles Dickens said of old Scrooge none of these are any longer of avail to us. All the treasures of Aladdin would then not be worth a farthing. For as the patriarch, Job, said: "Naked have I come from my mother's womb, and naked do I go back to her."

Naked as we go back to our Mother Earth, we can take nothing, literally nothing, with us. And yet we see many a millionaire, and many a Croesus, cling to his riches till he draws his last breath. The fool, as if they could follow him to the kingdom of eternal darkness! Many a millionaire, who could enjoy all the pleasures of life that money can buy, and who could brighten his days with all possible luxuries and amenities that make life more agreeable and bearable, would yet rather die being such a miser than spend a trifling portion of his wealth in the interest of his health or to procure recovery from disease. There are many people who know how to make millions, yet are entirely ignorant as to how to spend them with wisdom. Some, indeed, are quite incapable, out of avarice, of using even a small part of their wealth to satisfy their own wants and bodily needs.

Greed and avarice shorten life. The greedy man tries hard, by all means, often without scruples or regard for the exigencies of his own health, to make money. Very frequently he does so with complete disregard of the interests of his fellowmen, little caring if they are ruined by his enterprises. Evidently he is quite ignorant of the proverb, "Live, and let live," or at least, he pays no attention to it in his pursuit of the shekel.

The miser is still worse! The greedy man fails to heed the interests of others, caring not if they are ruined on his account, but the miser cares not a whit even for his own interests, i.e., the interests of his own health, in his love for riches. He loves money so much that for fear of losing even a small part of it, he neglects his own wants and even the most stringent requirements of his health and bodily condition. Such is true, unadulterated avarice!

The greedy man desires to make money, much money, by all means, but he also wants to enjoy the money he makes. He does not pinch himself in anything that concerns his own comfort, and often spends money freely for this purpose. But the avaricious man accumulates gold only to hear its clinking sound, which is music to his ears. He wants to hoard his beloved money, and he would rather starve and freeze in the bitterest winter than use a small part of it to buy coal for his own comfort.

Such privations hasten the end of the avaricious. Underfeeding exposes them to certain diseases. Among these diseases tuberculosis takes first place. When the body tissues lack certain mineral sub-stances which are indispensable for their maintenance, such as lime, iron, potash, etc., their resistance to the myriads of microbes, to the attacks of which we are constantly exposed, is diminished. Persons in whose scanty diet these elements are not represented in sufficient quantities are more likely to fall victims to infections of all kinds.

The working power of the heart-muscle is like-wise impaired when it fails to receive through the diet the substances necessary for its activity, especially the sugars. Accordingly, in poorly nourished persons one very frequently finds the heart to be weak, a fact to which I referred in greater detail in the fifth, enlarged edition of my work on "Old Age Deferred."

The miser, in order to save money, has a predilection for living in the most unhealthy sort of a dwelling, if only it be inexpensive, and by thus selecting, out of stinginess, a dark and often damp abode, he is exposed to all kinds of infectious diseases, particularly articular rheumatism, with its damaging after-effects on the heart. When, more-over, the miser falls ill, he fails to consult the physician in good time, when the latter could still be of service to him, but from motives of economy waits until very late, when the disease has already exerted its destructive effects, which can no longer be counteracted, even by the most skilful physician. As a rule, these unfortunate persons would rather die than seek medical help, unless compelled to do so by intolerable pain.

This sort of thing is met with very often among the wealthiest misers. For a number of years I had under my care a multimillionaire patient from a Southern town, who was suffering from diabetes. In order to avoid paying the Carlsbad "cure-tax," amounting to 20 kronen, he lived in a suburb of the city. Out of sheer economy he consulted me only once each time he began his cure, in spite of the fact that he was suffering seriously from his diabetes. It seemed as if, as a good uncle, out of love for his nephews, he wanted to terminate his life soon, thus helping them to spend with lavish hands the treasure he had been heaping up during his life, and let other people also have something of the riches of their uncle.

Here we see another instance of the compensatory justice that exists in nature, by virtue of which treasure that has been hoarded up without avail to any one rather frequently passes into the hands of heirs who rapidly consign it to its proper destination, viz., to circulate through other hands instead of being locked up without any practical benefit in a strong box. And so it is that, as a kind of punishment, misers not infrequently have spendthrifts as their heirs.

It is certainly an abnormal thing when rich people prefer to expose themselves to disease and premature death rather than part with a small fraction of their fortune. This undoubtedly betrays an abnormal mode of thinking. Now that which is abnormal means something unsound, and such unsoundness can, indeed, be correlated with disease. According to my observations, this condition embraces not only changes in the mind and impairment of the reasoning powers, but also changes in the body itself. I have rather often observed that wealthy individuals, previously very active men-tally, show a decrease of their mental capacities as soon as they begin to age, at the same time be-coming very close-fisted and stingy, in marked contrast to their previous liberal habits. I am consequently inclined to regard avarice as a senile manifestation.

It is an interesting fact that in such persons I have invariably found a condition of arteriosclerosis, and in particular a hardening of the vessels of the brain.

I should like to point out here the interesting contrast that exists between the liberality of youth and the stinginess of old age. In youth there is active circulation of blood through the vessels and the cortex of the brain. The seat and center of all our mental faculties is thus well provided with blood. As a rule, under these conditions, liberality is to be noted.

In old age, however, the circulation of the blood is slowed down, changes occur in the tissues of the blood-vessels, which become narrower, and the tissues supplied by them are poorly and scantily nourished. Atrophy of these tissues occurs in con-sequence. It may be that the penuriousness we so often find in such old people is related to this process of atrophy.

Indeed, I think the opinion I am venturing here is not entirely lacking in solid scientific foundation. There has been described by the French medical school a condition in diabetics of advanced age which would seem to support my statement. Such old diabetic patients have been observed who, in spite of the fact that they were very rich, suffered from a mental delusion termed by the French savants "délire de ruine." These wealthy people harbored the delusion that they were threatened with immediate financial ruin, and that they were dying of hunger like the poorest beggar. And this in spite of the fact some of them were worth many millions.

We may perhaps better understand this strange mental condition when I mention that, according to my observations in many cases of diabetes seen during the last twenty-five years in Carlsbad, in nearly every case, when diabetes presents itself in a person of advanced age, it is caused by hardening of the arteries arteriosclerosis which involves also the arteries of the pancreas. Degeneration of the latter is, as is well known, the most important cause of diabetes.

As evidence demonstrating the truth of this observation, I may here mention a fact I published in the "Journal médical de Bruxelles" eight years ago, via., that in almost every case of diabetes in old persons I succeeded in decreasing the amount of sugar or causing it to disappear altogether by administering iodine, the well-known remedy for arteriosclerosis.

In my book, "Old Age Deferred," I also showed that avarice can be caused by changes in the pituitary gland, mentioning two such cases. In the disease known as acromegaly, due to this cause, the hands, feet, nose, etc., enlarge to an enormous size, the face often presenting the appearance of that of Punch. Both of the patients referred to were millionaires, and one of them was also a diabetic. They both showed an altogether abnormal miserliness.

From the above it appears that avarice may not infrequently be related to physical and mental disturbances. At any rate it is the expression of an abnormal condition weakness of the human mind. It may not be compatible with a high degree of intelligence, and if craft and cunning are present in addition, is no more an expression of a high degree of intellect than the wit of the peasant stamps him as a clever person. That misers belong to a relatively low plane as to intellect likewise appears from the fact that the opposite of miserliness, viz., liberality, is met with oftenest among persons, such as artists, who are gifted with great talents.

Again, the outstanding personalities who, as religious leaders, combined in themselves the highest sagacity and wisdom, exhorted their followers to exercise the virtues of beneficence to others and give freely to the poor. Indeed, Christ taught that one should love his neighbor as one does himself.

In the teachings of Moses repeated admonitions as to generosity are made, and upon a stone in the courtyard of the town hall at Eger, obtained from a synagogue that burned down in the sixteenth century, there appears the beautiful inscription: "Simple gifts soothe the wrath of God."

Mohammed, the Prophet, who had a tender heart for the poor, laid special stress upon the giving of alms, and there are no people in the world so liberal in their gifts to the poor as the Mohammedans. Nowhere in the world are there as many charitable institutions for the poor and needy, often erected centuries ago, as in the countries where Mohammedanism prevails. Charity, the giving of alms to the poor, constitutes one of the five holy commandments of the Islamic faith.

Nowhere have I seen so many beggars, and like-wise nowhere so much of alms distributed, as in Morocco, one of the great strongholds of Islam. That there are still so many beggars in Spain may, I believe, be considered a remnant of the traditions of the Arabic rule in Spain. In the same way many of the expressions used in Spanish are de-rived directly from the Arabic, e.g., the pious exclamation "o j ala Dios" (if God will have it) with which the Spaniard supplements all his statements concerning his future doings, just as the Arab always uses his "Insh' Allah."

On the inscriptions of the old Egyptian monuments dating from the time of the XIIth Dynasty, charity is especially recommended. The hungry are to be fed, the thirsty refreshed, and the naked clothed.

Even nature herself teaches charity. The gifts which nature vouchsafes with a free hand and in abundance to man should awaken in him a tendency to benevolence to his fellowmen and to animals. We should not let a day pass by without doing some good action to our fellowmen, and if there is no occasion to do some good to a needy person, at least one may throw a bone to a hungry dog.

I am fully convinced of the literal truth of the saying that "Charity brings its own reward," for the inward pleasure and satisfaction which follow a good action influence favorably the mind and the nervous system, and through them also the heart and the general blood circulation. The positive qualities of human character, such as kindness, love, and hope, prolong life, while the negative characteristics, such as hate, mistrust, avarice, etc., are capable of shortening life owing to their irritant action on the nervous system, and consequently on the circulatory system, to which it is closely related. Likewise the many vexatious and frequent out-bursts of anger to which they lead may be operative in this direction.



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